Approximately 15 million people in the United States alone have become victims of identity theft in the past year. If you are a victim of identity theft, you could find that it has a huge effect on your personal finances. Criminals who have access to your name, date of birth, address, and previous addresses could take out loans, mortgages, and purchase goods in your name. These actions can lead to you receiving invoices, bills, demands for payment for products or services you know nothing about. You may even get a visit from debt collectors who insist you owe them thousands of dollars; it can and it does happen.
Criminals use many different methods when committing identity theft, and many of us are aware of potential scams, but there are a few scams that many people are still falling prey to, simply because they do not know the scams exist.
RKN Global’s founder, Ronald Noble, draws attention to the fact that knowledge is power when it comes to avoiding identity theft. The more aware we are of the various methods criminals use, the better we can protect ourselves from them.
The Snail Mail Scam
While there are many different sophisticated methods that criminals use, identity theft using ‘Snail Mail’ is also a frequent occurrence. ‘The Register’ recently reported that theft of residential mail has been linked to this type of crime. New South Wales Police recently reported that people have received opened mail. While this may not seem like a crime in itself, the recipients may very well later discover that the information contained in the letters has been seen by criminals and been used to obtain their identity and steal large sums of money.
Bank statements are more likely to be opened than any other mail, because they not only contain your account numbers, but they also show how much money is in your account. Using this information, along with your address, criminals can go to town. They may not take large amounts of money at any one time, but if undetected, they can skim a little cash from your account over the period of a year. A little cash now and again will build up, and they may have stolen hundreds if not thousands of dollars, by the time you’ve realized something is wrong.
One way to tackle this type of crime is to go paperless. Your bank is likely to give you the opportunity to receive paperless statements. You will need to register for online banking in order to go paperless, but it’s a very convenient and secure way to keep your bank details out of the wrong hands. Another way to tackle this type of crime is to check your bank statements frequently. Get in the habit of checking your bank statements at least once a week. Be on the lookout for transactions that you don’t recognize, and don’t be afraid to speak to your bank if you find a transaction you’re unsure about.
The Friend/Relative Scam
A recent and fairly nasty scam that has hit the headlines is known as the ‘Friend/relative Scam,’ which uses your emotional attachments to encourage you to part with your hard earned cash. Imagine the scene: You receive a text message from a loved one saying that his car has broken down, and they need money to pay for repair. He’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, and needs $100 to travel home. Perhaps your loved one was the victim of a mugging, and needs $700 to pay the rent, and needs that money wired right now.
Emotive scams can and often do work. It’s in our nature to want to help those we love, but it’s these instinctive emotions that can result in money being stolen and our identities used by someone else.
One way to tackle this problem is to call the friend or relative and ask them if they sent the message. Call them on another number if you can, and call them using another telephone. If you think your friend or relative might actually be in trouble, speak to another family member about this. Find out where this person is, if you can, and try to get someone to verify their location. Offer to place the money in their bank account, rather than wiring it. Lastly, don’t forget to ask yourself why they are texting you, rather than calling you to ask you for financial assistance.
Ronald Noble, founder of RKN Global, urges you to use common sense when dealing with scams like this. “Why are they texting me and not calling” is a perfect example of the type of question you should ask yourself.
The Driving Offense Scam
One of the more recent scams that has come to light is the driving offense scam. This scam involves drivers receiving emails claiming they have committed an offense on the road. Police in Canada have received calls from drivers about an email that states they will be mailed a fine, and are expected to pay it. The email in question asks the receiver to click on a link to take a look at the fine. Once you’ve clicked on the link, you may be directed to a page asking for personal information, or subjected to a computer virus. Canadian Police have stated that they do not email drivers regarding offenses.
One way to tackle this problem is to contact your local police. DO NOT click on any of the links in the email. DO NOT use any of the telephone numbers or email addresses in the email. Tell the police about the email. Tell your friends and family about the email you’ve received, so they too are aware of the scam. Finally, delete the email and treat any suspicious looking emails with the same caution.
The Medical Insurance Scam
One of the more recent scams involves stealing someone’s identity and medical records, and using medical insurance cards to obtain prescription drugs. When thieves have your medical insurance card in their possession, they can get hold of prescription drugs and receive treatments in your name. This can result in you being offered the wrong type of treatment, or being arrested for allowing someone else to use your insurance. In order to prevent this type of identity theft occurring, it’s recommended that you keep a copy of your medical records. You should also read any mail you receive from your insurance providers, and contact them if you see anything out of the ordinary. Keep your insurance card with you, or in a safe place, and never let anyone else use it.
What can you do if you suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft?
If you suspect you have been a victim of identity theft, one of the first things you need to do is tell the police. Give the police as much information as you can about the theft, detailing what you think has happened, when, and how. The police will advise you about what you should do next. Some of the advice may include contacting financial organizations, such as mortgage companies, and credit card issuers.
RKN Global founder Ronald K. Noble stresses that identity theft is a serious crime. Don’t be embarrassed about getting police involved.
How to reduce the likelihood of identity theft
None of us may be able to prevent identity theft from occurring, but we can reduce its likelihood. Here are a few tips that could prevent you from falling victim to this potentially devastating crime.
– Pay with a credit card
Most credit cards offer some form of payment protection. They are likely to protect you if you don’t receive the goods you’ve paid for, and offer you protection in the event of identity theft. This is because most credit card issuers frequently monitor accounts to see if there is any suspicious activity (Source: moneysavingexpert.com).
– Use your smart phone to pay
If you have a smart phone, use it to make payments when you shop. Apple and Google Pay, to name but a few, are services that can help to protect you. These payment methods offer some of the latest encryption protection, making your personal information a lot more secure than if you had paid using a card.
– Does it look too good to be true?
Have you found an offer that looks too good to be true? If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Take a look at the personal information the site is asking for. Does it offer you the chance to pay via PayPal, or do you have to give your name, address, and credit card number, along with your date of birth, and previous addresses? When you come across an offer that’s too good to be true, stop and think. If your instincts tell you something is wrong, it probably is.
We can all take steps to lower our chances of becoming victims of identity theft. While criminals use more and more sophisticated methods to steal our identity, we should all try to limit how much information we give to others. It’s only when we keep our personal details as personal as we can that we reduce the risk of falling victim to a potentially devastating crime.